Falls are a persistent hazard found in all occupational settings. A fall can occur during the simple acts of walking or climbing a ladder to change a light fixture or as a result of a complex series of events affecting an ironworker 80 feet above the ground. According to the 2009 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 605 workers were killed and an estimated 212,760 workers were seriously injured by falls to the same or lower level.
The highest frequency of fall-related fatalities was experienced by the construction industry, while the highest counts of nonfatal fall injuries continue to be associated with the health services and the wholesale and retail industries. Healthcare support, building cleaning and maintenance, transportation and material moving, and construction and extraction occupations are particularly at risk of fall injuries.
Circumstances associated with fall incidents in the work environment frequently involve slippery, cluttered, or unstable walking/working surfaces; unprotected edges; floor holes and wall openings; unsafely positioned ladders; and misused fall protection. Federal regulations and industry consensus standards provide specific measures and performance-based recommendations for fall prevention and protection. However, persistent unsafe practices and low safety culture across many industries define steady fall injury rates year after year.
Fall injuries constitute a considerable financial burden: workers’ compensation and medical costs associated with occupational fall incidents have been estimated at approximately $70 billion annually in the United Sates [NSC 2002]. Many countries are facing the same challenges as the United States on fall injury in the workplace. The international public health community has a strong interest in developing strategies to reduce the toll of fall injuries.
Successful reduction of fall injury and fatality rates requires continued concerted efforts of regulators and industry leaders, professional associations and labor unions, employers and employees, safety professionals and researchers in enhancing the work environment, implementing new effective fall prevention and protection technologies, and improving the work safety culture through continuous education of the workforce. NIOSH, as the leader in occupational safety research, plays a key role in these complex fall-injury prevention efforts.
Fall-Related Research and Development Activities at NIOSH
Planning and Guidance of Fall-Related Research at NIOSH
The NIOSH fall-injury prevention research strategic planning and goal setting is structured throughout industry sector and cross-sector programs, and takes into consideration the magnitude or emergence of the problem as evidenced by data, immediacy of need expressed by critical stakeholders, current resources and expertise in the goal area, current research, strength of partnerships in current research, and status and momentum on the course of research-to-practice. The strategic planning process has been recently enhanced with input from the National Academy of Sciences program review.